8 April 2016

IN CONVERSATION with TELEMAN

Photography by Eleonora C. Collini

Emerged from the ashes of Pete and the Pirates, London-quartet Teleman have been making lithe, clean-cut electronic indie-pop since 2012.

Made up of brothers Tommy (guitar and vocals) and Jonny (synths) Sanders, Pete Cattermoul (bass) and Hiro Amamiya (drums), the band have created a unique sound which incorporates the melancholic catchiness of the Beach Boys’ surf-rock into the synth-pop sonorities of early Pet Shop Boys and Kraftwerk, tingeing it with the experimental softness of The Velvet underground.

Brilliant Sanity, the follow-up to their 2014’s debut Breakfast, is a clever hodgepodge of pop hooks and softly-spoken melodies, that inspires a joyful, positive mood.

I caught up with the band at their rehearsal space in London’s Homerton to discuss their writing process, lyrics, music videos and where they see themselves in twenty years.

Where was Brilliant Sanity recorded?
TOM: In Dan Carey’s studio in Streatham. He has two studios on the same road and we switched between them.

How was working with Dan and how did his approach differ from Bernard Butler’s, who produced your debut record? 
PETE: It was a very different process. When we worked with Bernard we were doing everything separately, in little bits almost like when you work at home, whereas with Dan it was much of a bigger, more intense project all in one go, as we took five weeks straight to make it. I am sure they could both do it that way, but with Bernard we didn’t do it, so it is quite hard to compare them, because of the very different approach we gave to the record.

Which of them do you think had a more controlling hand?
TOM: They were both very open to our creative thoughts, neither were controlling.
PETE: With Bernard it took us way longer, so he would stir things a bit more, whereas with Dan we had to be very quick as we didn’t have lots of time. Five weeks sounds like a lot, but it isn’t really for both recording and mixing. For that reason, he would only make good suggestions and try to stir things in a way that was very helpful. But it was never “No, you mustn’t do this” or any bad feeling in that sense.

Is it true that you used a white board where you would write the structure of the songs out? 
TOM: Yes, that is part of our song development. It is just that you have got the songs floating around and you could lose your focus sometimes, so you need to write them down to understand where you are going and what you are doing. The time you are working on a new record is precious so you have to make it count, and a white board helps to have a visual aid when you lose your focus.

Did you do that for the first album as well?
PETE: Yes, we have invested in a white board quite a few years ago actually. It was a big change to our structure.

I read that the lyrics were mainly written on the road. 
TOM: Some of them. Being on tour is a good place to write lyrics, as you have got hours, even days with not much to do, just looking out the window, and that gives you a lot of time for reflection.

Do lyrics come to you as separate images that you then put together or do you already have a story in mind when you start writing them? 
TOM: No, I don’t normally have stories. There is not a clear narrative. It is more disjointed.

What is their relationship with the music?
TOM: I think lyrics have to really work with music in a way that they flow with the rhythm and create alliteration. Sometimes you have something to say, but it doesn’t fit with the music, so you want to keep your intention for another time, because you want that intention to flow in a natural way to feel good when you sing it.

The first single “Fall in Time” was remixed by both Moses Boyd and Lung Dart. Whose idea was that? 
JONNY: Our manager knows a lot of cool, sort of smaller musicians that would suit the remixes of our music, so we left it to him to find that kind of cool upcoming talents to do that stuff.

How do you feel about remixes in general?
JONNY: It is a bit tricky. They can be inappropriate sometimes or it could be someone that just makes a very generic house track and put the lyrics over or not even that, maybe just one lyric looping around, which is not really a remix for me, because it is just their own track with your name on it.
TOM: When you hear your music in a very different contest, it can actually make you reconsider it.
PETE: It is nice to hear stuff in a different contest, but it is not essential. You don’t get other artists like painters make remixes, repainting someone else’s paintings.

I think you can actually copy a painting giving it your own unique interpretation like Andy Warhol did, but maybe that would probably be the equivalent of a cover song. I was asking because personally I am not a huge fan of remixes and I know most of the times it’s not up to the artist to have a final choice on that.
PETE: In a way these days it feels like you are obligated to try and do a remix or have a remix done, but it shouldn’t be necessary.

Jonny, through your artwork, the band have created a pretty distinctive image. What is the relationship between Teleman artwork and music? 
JONNY: Music and artwork are completely separate. It is just that the music itself is quite simple in places, which could match the artwork, but I don’t listen to the music and think that the artwork should look like this. It is more just a case of what is going to really stand out. The kind of design that I do anyway is like that, just simple stuff to catch your eye and be memorable. It is not a complicated sketch or a boring photo, it is a piece of design in a kind of classic way.

Lets talk about the video for “Dusseldorf”. Where did the idea of shooting into mirrors come from?
TOM: It was the director’s [Daniel Bereton] idea. We were all having a chat and bouncing some ideas around, and he mentioned shooting with mirrors. I always think it’s nice when in a music video you see the photographer captured as well, because of course someone has filmed the video, so it’s nice to offer that perspective.
JONNY: It’s quite honest. We are not trying to pose or set an environment up that isn’t there like a film does. It is quite the opposite.

How relevant as a promotional tool do you think music videos can still be today?
JONNY: Nowhere near as important as they used to be. I think nowadays they just take for granted that you will make a video for your songs whether it will be just a very simple visual or an elaborate short film. I think that for different artists, it has different influences. Some bands make incredible videos and they only get a couple of hundreds views, whereas other bands make terrible videos that have millions of views…..
PETE: Having a good music video doesn’t automatically make you have success.
TOM: Although it actually can. There are bands that can become famous for making very expensive videos and make a name just through that, though you might not even remember the song at all.

Where do you see yourself in twenty years?
TOM: From an individual point of view it’d be amazing if we could still play together, and I don’t see why we wouldn’t be. Also, I would love to have enough free time to keep chickens, just to get their eggs. I have always wanted to do it, but it is difficult when you are in a band, because you keep going off on tour.
PETE: I think we would probably be on the Isle of Wight playing a festival together, maybe second from top. We will be keeping putting out a record every two years, though maybe we could do two in a year and then take three years off.
JONNY: We might go on a hiatus.
PETE: Maybe we will do something completely different. I think we will all be creative forever, but I don’t know whether or not we will do it together or separately.

You could all have your side projects…
JONNY: Yes, we like side projects.
TOM: We can make a Teleman fragrance which is probably going to make us millions
JONNY: It’s going to be called “Smellyman”.
PETE: And Hiro is going to have his own clothing range.
JONNY: Very minimalist.
HIRO: I think I will be in the countryside.

You can have chickens with Tom or maybe other animals too?
TOM: Yes, he can live with me in my country estate.
PETE: Maybe in Margate

That is not really countryside, is it? Changing subject, you are about to embark on an extensive European tour. Is there any place in particular where you have never played and are looking forward to playing?
PETE: We are playing in Copenhagen for the first time, which is very exciting. And as usual we are looking forward to playing in Berlin again.
TOM: Yeah, we love playing in Germany!

What record do you usually play to motivate yourself?
TOM: “Dressed for Success” by Roxette.
JONNY: Maybe Pet Shop Boys, but the early stuff. There are one of those bands that can be amazing and dreadful at the same time. But when they are good they are just really really good. It is the ‘80s stuff I am into.
PETE: I like listening to new music. Something fresh always motivates me. I can of course go back to something classic like the Beach Boys, but I feel I need to listen to more new stuff at the moment. For instance I am really liking Four Tet at the moment.
HIRO: Me too, I get really excited when listening to new stuff.

If Teleman were an animal, what would they be?
PETE: A Fox
JONNY: I recently saw a video of racoons online and they are so great, very mischievious
TOM: Maybe a whale, because we grow slowly but surely, and we feed on plankton …..

“Brilliant Sanity” is out today via Moshi Moshi

Originally published on London in Stereo

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